I don’t know about you, but a lot of times my belly points the direction for my next vacation and this was certainly the case when choosing to visit Lagos and Lisbon. I start by finding a place I’m interested in and then the next thing you know it’s midnight and I’m staring at pictures of the local cuisine on the internet while wiping the drool off my chin! Yep, I admit it, I’m a food porn addict!
I thought there might be some others interested in the foods of Portugal. Since it not as popular of a destination as other European countries, I’ve found a lot of people ask us, “What exactly do they eat in Portugal anyway?”.
Hopefully this list gives you a good idea of some local dishes and things to eat in Portugal if you’re planning your own trip. Our stops included Lagos, Luz, and Sagres in the Algarve and Cascais, Sintra and Lisbon further north. We stayed along the coast and did not get to go up to Porto but we did at least drink lots of Porto!
So here is the list along with some photos of everything we ate while in Portugal!
This glorious plate of Pastel de nata, bread and jam, olives, cheese, fresh fruit and veggies, and chouriço.
The place we stayed at (Costa D’Oiro Ambiance Village) offered a breakfast spread that was one of the most enjoyable free hotel breakfasts I’ve had! From what I understand, the Portuguese don’t treat breakfast like we do in the U.S., a hot drink like coffee and some bread or pastry and they are good. I wish I had a photo of just the pastel de nata, which is the egg custard pastry in the upper right, since this was really the star of the show. Pastel de Nata is a signature Portuguese pastry and we had many while in the country, so good! The custard is smooth and sweet and the crust has a crispy, slightly chewy caramelized aspect. Make sure you seek these out in any visit to Portugal! Read more about pastel de nata here.
Polvo with spinach and sweet potatoes
This was one of my more adventurous culinary choices while in Portugal. I had heard from people that I had to try polvo while I was in Portugal, so when it was on the menu at this modern seafood restaurant in Lagos, I had to try it. It was not quite what I was expecting, but delicious none the less. My first bite was mainly the outer layer of skin still attached and I was worried I wouldn’t make it through the whole dish! After getting into the meat of the plate though, the texture and flavor was quite enjoyable. The sauteed spinach with white sweet potatoes complimented the octopus perfectly.
Cappuccino and almond tart (or jesuitas de amendoa) from Bijou de Cascais
Just look at that cappuccino! I love it! This almond tart was also divine. The Portuguese love their almonds and almond desserts were on many of the menus we sampled. This tart from Bijou Cascais was sweet and carmelized with a flaky, light crust. Very good! Take a look at their menu and you’ll see why you need to stop in if visiting Cascais.
Crusty bread, stuffed mushrooms, more olive and more cheese, with Super Bock!
One of my favorite things to do while in Portugal was to make an afternoon stop at a small cafe or restaurant with outdoor seating to grab a drink and some snacks. I could not get enough bread, cheese and olives! Seriously look at that bread! So perfect!
Ginjinha in the park
We learned that Ginjinha is another signature drink of Portugal. It is a sweet cherry liqueur sometimes served in a chocolate cup, available at small street stands. We saw them in Lisbon and Cascais, but not so much Lagos. Here we stopped at a small park in front of The Lisbon Cathedral
This was our view by the way, while we slowly sipped our Ginjinha and enjoyed the warm Lisbon sun and sounds of the city.
Yet more olives, cheese and tuna spread, olive oil for dipping
Almost all of the restaurants we ate at offered some kind of fish spread for the charcuterie option. I am assuming they used whatever was left of the catch of the day from yesterday’s menu to whip this up. I found these to be very tasty spread on the crusty bread that always accompanied our meals. Cheese spreads were also popular, and I don’t think we ever sat down to eat with out a small bowl of olives on our table. I had read before going to Portugal that these items would be placed at your table upon arrival and you would be charged with out knowing that you actually had to pay since you did not request the items. This was not the case anywhere we ate in Lagos or Lisbon. We always had to ask for these items, which we did because why the heck wouldn’t we?! At only a few euros It was worth it.
Sea Bream, fried potatoes and steamed vegetables
There was no way I was leaving Portugal with out eating a whole fish! This sea bream was delicious! Light and flaky, but flavorful in all the right ways. I had never been presented a fish like this before, and you had the choice of the whole fish or the filet, so I wanted to go big or go home – give me the whole fish! There was a plate for the bones and I clumsily navigated my way through removing the head, bones and tail in one go. I was pretty impressed with myself and I think our server was too since it seemed most foreigners went with the filet option. The side dishes seem to be pretty typical for Portuguese fare, simple vegetables and potatoes.
Strawberry and cream, coffee gelato
You can’t go on vacation with out some form of ice cream! Pat ordered the double scoop of gelato not realizing how much it would really be. The strawberry cream was very interesting, slightly fizzy which I’ve never experienced before. These were from a street stand in downtown Lagos right by the waterway in a cute little square.
Pastéis de bacalhau
Bacalhau is available in many forms throughout Portugal. Here in Lisbon we tried it in pastry form while stopping for a cold beer. It was a perfect midday snack. Somewhat like a croquette, the bacalhau filling was mixed with potato, egg and cheese then fried with a dab of butter on top. Yum!
Petiscos or Portuguese tapas (small plates)
This was at a hip wine and tapas bar in Cascais called The Tasting Room. Spanish tapas are pretty well known, but in Portugal they are called petiscos (although this restaurant says tapas, I am sure that’s because it is a more widely recognized word in the more tourist centered places). Here we have a cheese plate, fried potatoes, tempura fried green beans and steak with olives and pickled vegetables. Everything we ate here was soooo good! I could have eaten two more servings of the green beans!
Porto, or Port wine originated in Portugal. Before traveling to Portugal we didn’t realzie there are actually three different kinds – white, ruby and tawny. This one is a tawny, which makes sense if you look at the color. They are all pretty sweet and strong, but the tawny is even sweeter. My favorites were the rubies we tried, but while in Portugal be sure to sample a few different kinds! Check out this video for even more info on Port wine! Beginner’s Guide to Port Wine
Carne de Porco à Alentejana
We didn’t always get our camera out fast enough before we devoured whatever tastiness was in front of us, and that was the case with this dish! It is a traditional Portuguese dish of pork with fried potatoes and little neck clams in a spicy tomato broth with pickled vegetables and olives. I totally understand why this is a beloved dish of Portugal! I am not even from here but it just feels homey and comforting but so flavorful. We discovered this at a restaurant in the Alfama district of Lisbon. Around dinner time the woeful, singing of the Fado performers filled the streets around us. It was an unforgettable experience. While I don’t have a shot of the food, here’s the charming street we ate on and a link to recipe if you want to try this dish yourself. Carne de Porco a Alentejana
All the pastries!
Theres’s no shortage of sweets here! Here’s a sampling from a local shop in the heart of Lisbon. Be sure to sample as many as you can, you won’t regret it!
Well, I hope you’re not too hungry now! These are just some things to eat in Portuga if you ever find yourself there. I hope you enjoy the food and drink as much as we did!